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    United Arab Emirates

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      Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
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    United Arab Emirates in pictures + Abu Dhabi

    • Abu Dhabi

      Abu Dhabi is lot less lively and eclectic than its rebellious younger sister, Dubai, which is just an hour's drive away. Perhaps Abu Dhabi's calm atmosphere ... Discover Abu Dhabi

    In brief +

    Weekly budget
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    -6h / -5h
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    Travel to United Arab Emirates

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    Destination overview

    It isn't unusual for people to confuse Dubai with Abu Dhabi, and to mistake Dubai for the name of the country. Let's set things straight - Dubai is one of seven emirate cities in the country, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Abu Dhabi is the UAE's capital.

    Dubai is the first emirate city to have been put on the map and now, the adult playground, needs no introduction. Abu Dhabi, its older sister, is a little less wild and is more of an administrative and residential emirate city. The next emirate to haul itself onto the tourist map is Ras al-Khaimah due to its orange deserts, blue waters lined by white sand beaches and pearl fishing legacy. Ajman and Sharjah are much smaller emirates and are fairly residential. Umm al-Quwain is also very quiet and offers few specific reasons to visit.

    The United Arab Emirates is governed by the equivalent of kings, or Sheikhs, as they are locally known. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the founding sheikh of the Emirates in 1962, when oil was first discovered in Abu Dhabi. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded as ruler of Abu Dhabi and per the country's constitution, he also became president of the UAE. Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded Khalifa as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. In January 2006, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, died, and the crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum assumed both roles.

    The UAE, Bahrain and Qatar, were under British protection and rule until the late 1960s, when the countries were given their independence. It wasn't until 1972 that the seven emirates agreed to form the UAE federation.

    Security: there are no restrictions in place for travel to the United Arab Emirates. Foreigners must however remember that despite its glitzy front, the UAE remains a strict Muslim country. Laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK.


    • +  The contrast between desert, sea and urban metropolis.
    • +  The UAE is one of the safest places in the world.


    • -  The unbearable heat in summer (April-September).
    • -  You are never far from a building site in most city centres in the UAE.
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      Our Editorial team's advice

      Although the UAE is one of the most lenient countries in the Gulf, there are strict laws to follow that do not apply back home. It is against the law to bring in any sort of illegal drug, to drink and be drunk in public, to show any sort of affection towards the opposite sex or any sort of homosexual behaviour in public.

      Men should avoid wearing sleeveless tops in the city, and women should cover their shoulders and legs and should avoid wearing low-cut tops outside of hotels - otherwise expect unwanted stares in your direction from the locals and the Muslim expatriate communities.


      Haggling is a common and familiar practice in souks and certain shops. Shopkeepers will substantially cut the prices down, especially if you pay cash. As for customs, although the Emirates are quite liberal, bare arms and shorts are not appreciated in town. Taking a picture of a woman can be perceived as a provocation, and you should avoid smoking, eating or drinking in public areas during Ramadan.


      In the past the traditional Bedouin meal was made of flat wheat cakes cooked under embers, served with camel's milk, bread and dates, and tea or coffee. The food is spicy, and can often taste similar to Indian cooking. Nowadays, the Shawarma is the most available food item, to be found on just about any street corner (and for a good price). It is a sandwich of mutton which has been cooked on a skewer and then cut into thin strips and placed into a kuhbus (pita) bread with vegetables and dressing, similar to a kebab. It generally costs less than 1. All good hotels serve a variety of cuisines: Lebanese, Chinese, Italian, American and French.

      We must stress that Dubai is one of the best places to try dishes from all over the world. Just watch out for those pounds! The best place to eat in town, is Okku at The Monarch Hotel for Japanese or Zaika at Al Murooj by Rotana for Indian. For something a little different, like molecular cuisine, then head for The Observatory at the Marriott Harbour.


      Dubai offers a great selection for shoppers from around the world, ranging from goat-skin flasks to electronics, clothing, leather, watches, perfumes, electronics, caviar, and sport cars. It is home to the Dubai Shopping Festival, which takes place every year in January-February, and is also the location of the world's largest shopping mall, the Dubai Mall. There are no taxes on goods in the Emirates, and the reasonable prices (even before bargaining) add to its shopping allure. From traditional souk districts selling gold and spices to modern shopping malls, department stores and exclusive boutiques, Dubai has it all.

      In the souk district, you can find Khandjars (curved daggers carried round the waist), carpets, Bedouin silver jewellery and wooden chests. The spice souk, very famous, carries perfumes, henna, incense and rose petals, and spices, such as cardamom, nutmeg, and saffron. Under the roofs of the gold souk, at Sikkat al-Khali St, more than 400 shops filled with gold and gems are squeezed against one another. Non-taxed gold, from 18 to 24 carats, is here sold at a better price than anywhere else in the world.

      Other shoppers may be looking for top brand-name items in fashion and electronics, which they will find here for cheaper than at home in Dubai's sleek, modern shopping malls, around Beniyas Al-Rigga and Al-Hiyafa Rd. Electronic goods can be found along Al Fahidi St. in Bur Dubai. Nearby, Cosmos Lane offers an array of textiles merchants.

      Somewhat less romantic, but equally worth a visit, is Dubai International Airport, probably the best duty-free outlet in the world, which also hosts the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.

      Most airlines flying out of Dubai International Airport offer reduced airfare, along with the much needed excess baggage allowance during DSF.

      United Arab Emirates: Sightseeing

      Cities in United Arab Emirates

      United Arab Emirates in pictures

      • Abu DhabiGrapheast/Graph East Computers Royalty Free

        Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates
      • Philip Lange / age fotostock

        Abu Dhabi :  - United Arab Emirates
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      • Abu Dhabi - United Arab Emirates
      • Abu Dhabi :  - United Arab Emirates
      • Abu Dhabi :  - United Arab Emirates
      • Abu Dhabi :  - United Arab Emirates
      • Abu Dhabi :  - United Arab Emirates
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      United Arab Emirates in pictures

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        Our expert on United Arab Emirates

        Neil Kreeger Section editor

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